October Reading

As the leaves turn to russet gold and red and the wind begins to bite the year begins to turn into the season for reading chilling stories. Barnes and Noble have offered up some suggestions for what they call ‘gothic’ tales to give you a scare this month and so I thought I would add my own five to their list.

The Grimscribe’s Puppets: Joseph S. Pulver Sr. (ed.)

Grimscribe's Puppets cover
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The B&N list starts off with the newly released edition of Thomas Ligotti’s two collections Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. Whilst these are indeed fantastic collections I want to add the Joeseph S Pulver edited collection The Grimscribe’s Puppets. This is an anthology of work inspired by Ligotti and penned by some of the most exciting writers in the world of the weird renaissance, including: Scott Nicolay, Livia Llewellyn, Nicole Cushing, Michael Cisco, Gemma Files, and more. The table of contents really does read like a who’s who of the modern weird.
Stand out stories: ‘Furnace’ by Livia Llewellyn, and ‘Eyes Exchange Bank’ by Scott Nicolay.

Gateways to Abomination: Matthew M. Bartlett

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Matthew M. Bartlett’s Gateways to Abomination is one of the most interesting books that I’ve read over the last year or so. Featuring a series of very short stories and vignettes Bartlett paints within this collection a sordid, and extremely creepy, picture of the city of Leeds, Mass. A city whose very fibre is permeated with an ancient witch cult which perverts and debases all who live within the city’s borders and which propagates its malign influence through the local radio station: WXXT.

Stand out story: ‘path’

Ana Kai Tangata – Tales of the Outer, the Other, the Damned, and the Doomed: Scott Nicolay

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Scott Nicolay’s fantastic collection Ana Kai Tangata (Meaning ‘the cave that devours man’) contains eight novella length expeditions that take us off the edge of the map. Into the Outer Dark perhaps? 😉 You can read my review of the collection here.
Stand out story: I’ve already tagged ‘Eyes Exchange Bank’ above so here I’ll recommend the titular ‘Ana Kai Tangata’

 

Blood Will Have its Season: Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

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As well as being a marvellous curator of weird stories for anthologies Joe Pulver is also one of the Weird’s more outré writers combining, as he does, cosmic horror and noir with a hard boiled beat sensibility. Blood Will Have its Season is the first collection of Pulver’s short fiction, published in 2009, which he has been producing since the 1990s. He’s well known for his love of Robert Chambers’ King in Yellow stories and the decadent aesthetic gets a dark and disturbing overhaul in many of the stories contained in this volume. The collection was also recently reissued as an eBook by the Lovecraft Ezine. You can pick that up here.
Stand out story: ‘Blood Will Have its Season’ (Not for the feint hearted.)

Year’s Best Weird Fiction -Volume One: Laird Barron (ed.)

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This collection -the first in a series from Undertow Books- came out last year and was edited by Laird Barron (whose collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits us All is also highly recommended) and brings together some of the finest work produced in the previous year. There are so many fine tales in this collection that I can’t actually pick one, or two even, to single out: the collection is just that good that you should read them all. You can read my review of it here. There will be a second volume of this series released in the next couple of months; this time curated by Kathe Koja ad I can’t wait to read it.

So, if you want some nice dark and disturbing reading to see you through the death of summer as the air becomes ripe with the pungency of rotting leaves then you wouldn’t go far wrong with any of the above. Enjoy. 🙂

 

Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One

Last year saw two major publishing events in the field of Weird Fiction. The first, and the one that garnered the most mainstream column inches, was the publication of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy –Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, which saw The Weird being thrust into the mainstream as it never has before. The second major event was the publishing of Michael Kelly and Laird Barron’s ‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’. This is the first, to my knowledge, explicitly Weird Fiction anthology* to be released since the Vandermeer’s tome ‘The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories’ was released in 2011 (following on from their 2008 anthology ‘The New Weird’). The reason that this release is so important is that it pushes the literary experimentation with the weird to the forefront without focussing on the work of any particular author. We have seen a glut of anthologies of work based on the Cthulhu mythos over the last 10 years or so, with their number increasing seemingly exponentially as time goes on, and anthologies based on the work of weird writers R.W. Chambers, Arthur Machen, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barorn, and a forthcoming collection based on the work of Robert Aickman. All of which is utterly fantastic but can not expose the reader to the wild experimental creativity that defines(?) the weird. This anthology does just that and it does it brilliantly. Another reason that this publication is so important is that a book that contains a wide variety of works, some of which are at the very edges of the weird, has sold enough copies within but a few short months of release that volume two has already been put together. Viva la weird!

*There is of course the wonderful ‘Women Writing the Weird’ anthology from Deb Hoag, also released in 2011, but that -as the name implies, only featured female authors and therefore couldn’t represent all of the best weird writing of that year.

Of particular note in this collection are Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? by Damien Angelica Walters, and The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska.

‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’ is published by Undertow Press in paperback and for e-readers things like that there Kindle device.

Table of Contents(Titles link to reviews)

The Nineteenth Step – Simon Strantzas

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks -Paul Tremblay

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

Year of the Rat – Chen Qiufan

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

Furnace -Livia Llewellyn

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? Damien Angelica Walters

Bor Urus – John Langan

A Quest of Dream – W.H. Pugmire

The Krakatoan – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Girl in the Blue Coat – Anna Taborska

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror – Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

In Limbo – Jeffrey Thomas

A Cavern of Redbrick – Richard Gavin

Eyes Exchange Bank – Scott Nicolay

Fox into Lady – Anne-Sylvie Salzman

Like Feather, Like Bone – Kristi DeMeester

A Terror – Jeffrey Ford

Success – Michael Blumlein

Moonstruck – Karin Tidbeck

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass – John R. Fultz

No Breather in the World But Thee – Jeff Vandermeer

The Nineteenth Step by Simon Strantzas

The opening salvo in this volume comes from Canada’s Simon Strantzas. It is a fitting opener for this volume as it exemplifies perfectly, and succinctly what is, to me, one of the defining thrusts of Weird Fiction -that our understanding of the world in which we live is limited and fragile. A young couple, Mallory and Alex, just setting foot on the bottom rung of the housing ladder, have their perception of The Real splintered by something so simple that it probably would have remained unnoticed by most. By the lucky ones.
The final line of this story also makes want to both slug Mr Strantzas and buy him a pint at the same time. Well played sir, well played.

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks by Paul Tremblay

Next we have Paul Tremblay’s look at drug addiction and self perpetuating cycles of abuse through the lens of meth addiction, motherhood and kaiju.  Following the nameless protagonist, who is also the titular Swim, as she endures the pressures of being a small town pariah and drug addict and the longing to be with the daughter denied her by the courts and circumstance.

This is very much a stream of consciousness/modernist story that draws the reader directly into the confused mind of Swim.

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

A bizarro tale of a squadron of interplanetary trans action heroes sent to chew gum, smash gender norms, and high kick trans-fetishism in the teeth. All whilst looking utterly fabulous.

Not really sure what more there is to say about this other than it actually had me laughing out loud at points. Completely unsubtle metaphors are used, abused, and then glammed up. This is a fabulous feminist tale that would horrify TERFS and MRAs in equal measure.

Brilliant. 🙂

Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan

 

Translated by Ken Liu this military SF story has more than a passing similarity to Catch 22 in its examination of the futility and absurdity of military organisation. It also has some rather scathing things to say about the relationship of the average proletarian to global capital.

I’m definitely going to be looking out for more of Chen’s work.

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

An masterfully crafted faux 19th Century homage to E.T.A. Hoffman told through a series of letters from a young woman sent to a young man with whom she was once infatuated. It speaks of the madness of art, of poetry, and the arrogance and proprietariness of the ‘man of science’ who eschews the lustiness of youth and of life for a pursuit that he will one day regret.

Furnace – Livia Llewellyn

This is one of the stories I was really looking forward to as I absolutely adore Llewellyn’s sensual prose and I’m a huge fan of Thomas Ligotti and as this tale comes from Joe Pulver’s Ligotti tribute anthology -The Grimscribe’s Puppets, I was highly anticipating something magical. I wasn’t disappointed. This tale of the strange degradation of a small town as rot and decay sets in captures Ligotti’s corporate horror period work perfectly yet still retains Llewellyn’s voice. Anyone living in a town facing the ravages of austerity capitalism will find this story set unsettlingly close to home.

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? – Damien Angelica Walters

“Inside each grief is a lonely ghost of silence, and inside each silence are the words we didn’t say.” The opening lines of this piece of experimental prose perfectly encapsulate the sense of loss and longing that permeates this short tale. Walters’ story is disjointed and disorienting and disturbing. Fabulous.

Bor Urus – John Langan


John Langan’s stories are always a slow burn and Bor Urus is no exception. In this story youthful fancy develops into startling obsession and realisation which fuel a potentially devastating mid-life crisis in the narrator. As ever with Langan’s work this is a superbly crafted weird tale and that’s no bullshit.

A Quest of Dream by W.H. Pugmire

Wilum H Pugmire is very much the person who carries the Lovecraftian torch into the 21st Century and one of his other stories, Inhabitants of Wraithwood, is one of my all time favourite weird fiction stories. This story is set in Wilum’s Sesqua Valley and, indeed, was first published in his Bohemians of Sesqua Valley collection. Unfortunately I’ve not read any of Wilum’s Sesqua stories and so I was rather unfamiliar with the setting. Still; I think this added to the strangeness of this story which deals with the overlapping of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and our world. This is a sumptuous story that displays well the finesse with which Wilum writes.

The Krakatoan by Maria Dahvana Headley

A many motherless girl, her astronomer father and a former astronomer neighbour who has turned his gaze towards the stars within the Earth. Both the prose style and the subject matter of this story reminded me heavily of the work of manga artist Juni Ito, which is high praise if you ask me.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska

That night I had a terrible nightmare. Mindla was standing by the marsh at the bottom of the field. She was only in her underwear. She reached out to me and at first I thought she had that same sadness in her eyes, but as I drew closer, I saw that her eyes were gone.” This is definitely the saddest of the stories that I have come across so far. An investigative journalist discovers that there are those who seek to ensure that those with the power to do so bear witness for those who can not. This story is soaked in sadness, from the setting, to the subject matter, to the prose which simply and clearly depicts a world scarred by its past and haunted by its ghosts.

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror by Joseph S. Pulver Sr

This is a beautiful tribute to the Lovecraftian author Wilum H Pugmire. Written in Pulver’s distinctive, fractured, prose style this piece of flash fiction gives us a look at a mythical Pugmire’s life and writing process.

In Limbo by Jeffrey Thomas

Horrible, horrible, horrible. This story is wonderful. An ageing man experiences loss, hope, and resignation as the lights go out. Maybe the lights are just going out for him or maybe for all of humanity, would either of these be bad things? I did love this story in its Ligottian darkness.

A Cavern of Redbrick by Richard Gavin

 

There is something about this story, of a young boy’s summer and the horrible discoveries he makes, that reminds me of Stephen King in both its setting and execution. The tale is rather open to interpretation in that whilst it’s a ghost story the other forces at play could be either supernatural or mere human madness.

Eyes Exchange Bank by Scott Nicolay

I keep on hearing great things about Scott Nicolay and going by this story every bit of praise that has been heaped upon him is warranted. Like Livia Llewellyn’s story this is set amid the deterioration of an economic collapse -though this time it is the recession of the late 1980s/early 1990s. The narrator of this story is brought by circumstance to a town that is decaying and is forced to confront the untruths upon which his life has been based. Nicolay really is a master of the weird and I can’t wait to read his collection Ana Kai Tangata.

Fox into Lady by Ann-Sylvie Salzman

 

Wow, this is a special story. It reminds me, in part, of Bruno Schulz or Stefan Grabinski though it is also very, very different to those authors’ work. This is a psychically discombobulating story of anxiety, fear, and resignation. I really want to read more by Salzman. (This piece was translated from the French by William Charlton)

Like Feather, Like Bone by Kristi DeMeester

demeester

Another lovely/horrible piece of flash fiction here. A story of mourning, sorrow, and what we do when we try to escape the inevitable process that comes with grief.

A Terror by Jeffrey Ford

Normally stories that feature historical characters make me wince somewhat. Jeffrey Ford’s strange adventure with the 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson and her brush with death was however thoroughly enjoyable. I get the feeling that I may have enjoyed it more had I known more about the poet herself. Still, even without this knowledge this is a startlingly good, and weird, ghost story of sorts.

Success by Michael Blumlein

The longest piece in this collection -a novelette rather than a short story I suppose, Blumlein’s story explores academic obsession, madness, and love at the interstices of the natural sciences and how one person’s approach to their obsession can drive them to madness where another’s can drive them to success and how the two approaches are not that different at the end of the day.

Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck

Moonstruck is an utterly beautiful and masterful fairy tale, a modern myth. An allegorical tale of a young girl’s emergence into womanhood and a mother’s fear that she is now being replaced by her offspring set against an impossible backdrop of a moon that is rapidly approaching the Earth and the home of the story’s protagonist. Beautiful.

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass by John R. Fultz

This is a bewildering tale set in a post-human steampunk world where we see a member of the ruling, beatific, class being blackmailed. The vacuity of ruling class culture and the illusions of money and status are here exposed in a fantastical world that I would love to explore in greater detail. Hopefully Fultz will expand on this setting in the future.

No Breather in the World But Thee by Jeff Vandermeer

I don’t think it would be possible to have a collection of the best Weird Fiction at the moment without featuring a piece by Jeff Vandermeer. This is an extremely strange story of ‘it‘ happening again ‘like last year‘ and told as a series of vignettes merged into a single narrative. Each one told from the perspective of the occupants of a mansion that has come under attack from a huge monster which has plummeted from the sky. A fitting end to the anthology this rather post-modern piece is a fine example of both some of the excellent work that is being done in the field of the Weird and of the sheer imagination of Jeff Vandermeer himself.

~fini~

What a Day

Wow, yesterday was rather good for me and mine and I truly hope it was good for you too.
C and I got to spoil Little Ms. X, and one another, absolutely rotten. It was also really nice to see that the most excitedly expectant look on Ms. X’s face wasn’t when she was opening her own presents but when C was opening the Tremors collection we had gotten her. She’s a good kid so she is.
I’m presently laying bed nursing something of a hangover after having rather over indulged in one of my more liquid presents..

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I do like a wee tipple of Laphroig so I do.
I’ve been laying here in bed for the last half an hour or so wanting to crack into one, or some, of my other gifts from C and X but you know what? I can’t decide which to delve into first! I have options paralysis! Oh the humanity!

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As an added bonus this also turned up in the post on Xmas Eve.

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So I have a rather wonderful amount of reading to do over the next few months if only can decide where to begin. 😀

A Day Off!

Three actually. In a row! I’ve not had a day off work since June 12th and now I have three of them! Wahey! I can read, I can write. Oh me oh my do I feel good. 😀

But what to read? I’ve got one hell of a backlog that has built up over the last year or so what with university, dissertation, and work. My present backlog looks a little like this, since you asked. Which you didn’t but this is it anyway.

To Finish: This is all short stories. I tend to take a collection with me to read during my commute as the 20-30 minutes on the train is normally just about right to get through a story.

The Weird – edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer

The Dark Domain – Stefan Grabinski

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

American Supernatural Tales – edited by S.T. Joshi

To Read: Books that I haven’t had the chance to dip into yet but am chomping at the bit to devour. 🙂

The Spectral Link – Thomas Ligotti

The Grimscribe’s Puppets – edited by Joe Pulver

Celebrant – Michael Cisco

Deadtown Abbey – Sean Hoade

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All – Laird Barron

I also need to be writing. Currently I have a cosmic horror story set amongst the Caledonii of Iron Age Scotland, and a post-apocalyptic Lovecraftian tale on the go. I also really need to get some more blog post writing done. On that front you can expect my half arsed attempt at an analysis of Ligotti’s Our Temporary Supervisor – which is, beyond a doubt, my favourite story from the Grimscribe himself.

So, until next time. Stay weird. 😀

 

PS: Also; BIG congratulations to Joe Pulver who’s anthology The Grimscribe’s Puppets won the Shirley Jackson award for best anthology! WAHEY!

grimscribe

Five of my Favourite Lovecraftian Short Stories

Over at the Lovecraft Ezine Mike Davis has been getting well known figures in the world of weird literature to share their top five favourite Lovecraftian stories. Now, I’m not well known, in the world of weird literature or otherwise, 😀 but thought I would pop a wee list of five of my favourites here. Not that they are my ‘top five’ as I can’t really rank stories(or music, or anything else for that matter) in that way. Such things change with the day and/or the wind. 🙂

Also, I suppose some of these fit into the broader ‘weird fiction’ category rather than being specifically Lovecraftian.

In no particular order:

The Broadsword by Laird Barron: Horrible and unsettling story of an older man, disconnected from his family with few friends still living. A chance encounter brings him to the attention of an horrific cosmic force that… well, that would be spoilers. 😀 The Broadsword was published in S.T. Joshi’s collection Black Wings of Cthulhu: Twenty-One Tales of Lovecraftian Horror.

Inhabitants of Wraithwood by W.H. Pugmire: Riffing off of H.P. Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model Wilum Pugmire paints a grotesque picture(see what I did there?) of a man on the run encountering a strange family which would make most people long for the comfort of a jail cell. Inhabitants of Wraithwood is also in Black Wings of Cthulhu: Twenty-One Tales of Lovecraftian Horror.

The Area by Stefan Grabinski: Grabinski(1887-1936) was a Polish author sometimes referred to as being a Polish ‘Poe’ or ‘Lovecraft’. Whilst I don’t think either of these are especially adequate comparisons his story The Area has a very Lovecraftian feel to it. Following an author’s obsession with an unoccupied cottage opposite his own residence and, eventually, the manifestation of his innermost imaginings. The Area has been translated into English by Miroslaw Lipinski in the collection The Dark Domain.

Technicolor by John Langan: In this short Langan investigates the use of colour by Edgar Allen Poe in The Masque of the Red Death. It takes the form of a university lecture outline the mysterious circumstances that influenced Poe to write his tale. I can’t heap enough praise on John Langan. The collection that contains TechnicolorThe Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, is a masterpiece of weird fiction. I would probably have included all the stories in this collection but thought I should go for a wee bit of variety. 😉

Our Temporary Supervisor by Thomas Ligotti: I’ve mentioned before that I am a massive Ligotti aficionado. His unrelenting negativity and extremely black humour has a very particular appeal to me. Of all the stories I have read by Ligotti however it is Our Temporary Supervisor that has had the most impact upon me. Part of his series of corporate horror stories involving the Quine Organisation this story, more than any of his others, for me perfectly encapsulates the pointlessness and  spirit crushing nature of most work in modern capitalism. The story of a worker who assembles metal pieces all day long, who has no idea what they do other than, he assumes, that they fit into a larger whole. The alienation and dehumanisation of abstract labour. Our Temporary Supervisor is available in the collection Teatro Grottesco.

So there you go. Five weird tales and collections to check out should you so wish. And you do. Wish to. Go on. Buy them. 😉

Year’s Best Weird Fiction

The Laird Barron edited collection The Year’s Best Weird Fiction is available to pre-order over at Chizine(Clicky).

The table of contents was also recently published on Barron’s blog.

“Success” by Michael Blumlein, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov./Dec.

“Like Feather, Like Bone” by Kristi DeMeester, Shimmer #17

“A Terror” by Jeffrey Ford, Tor.com, July.

“The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass” by John R. Fultz, Fungi #21

“A Cavern of Redbrick” by Richard Gavin, Shadows & Tall Trees #5

“The Krakatoan” by Maria Dahvana Headley, Nightmare Magazine/The Lowest Heaven, July.

“Bor Urus” by John Langan, Shadow’s Edge

“Furnace” by Livia Llewellyn, The Grimscribe’s Puppets

“Eyes Exchange Bank” by Scott Nicolay, The Grimscribe’s Puppets

“A Quest of Dream” by W.H. Pugmire, Bohemians of Sesqua Valley

“(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror” by Joseph S. Pulver Sr., Lovecraft eZine #28

“Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron” by A.C. Wise, Ideomancer Vol. 12 Issue 2

“The Year of the Rat” by Chen Quifan, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August.

“Fox into Lady” by Anne-Sylvie Salzman, Darkscapes

“Olimpia’s Ghost” by Sofia Samatar, Phantom Drift #3

“The Nineteenth Step” by Simon Strantzas, Shadows Edge

“The Girl in the Blue Coat” by Anna Taborska, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol. 1

“In Limbo” by Jeffrey Thomas, Worship the Night

“Moonstruck” by Karin Tidbeck, Shadows & Tall Trees #5

“Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks” by Paul Tremblay, Bourbon Penn #8

“No Breather in the World But Thee” by Jeff VanderMeer, Nightmare Magazine, March.

“Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?” by Damien Angelica Walters, Shock Totem #7.

I can’t wait to get this through the letter box. 🙂